Remember Barry Popkin? He’s the University of North Carolina professor who originated the theory—which he now fully admits was incorrect—that high fructose corn syrup is a unique contributor to obesity. With his previous hypothesis thoroughly discredited, he’s jumping on the “Twinkie Tax” bandwagon, pushing for new taxes on what he considers “bad” foods and drinks. We’ve written plenty about why this is a terrible public policy measure, but Popkin seems to think otherwise. In fact, he’s so sure of the political palatability of “fat taxes” that yesterday he told QSR magazine (a trade journal for fast-food restaurants) that some eateries could just go ahead and voluntarily raise prices on soft drinks. You read that right—Popkin suggested businesses could essentially torpedo their own sales numbers before politicians try to force them into it.
That’s like asking Sony to push the price of Playstations out of low-income families’ reach because kids play video games too much. (So much for parental authority.) Or asking Verizon to raise the price of cell phones because people text while driving. Businesses might as well put up a sign that says: “We don’t trust customers to use our products responsibly, so we’re making everything more expensive.” That might be daily fare for The Onion, but we don’t expect anyone to push the idea with a straight face.
Is Popkin overly confident that politicians will start passing Twinkie taxes by the baker’s dozen? Surely he’s seen that proposals to tax foods and drinks have largely failed in state legislatures. It’s more likely that the good professor is simply bluffing. But you can’t play poker if you’re not holding any cards—and he’s certainly empty-handed this time.